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Can you crack the 30-year-old CIA code?

Harry Pettit, January 30, 2020 6:45PM The Sun

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The puzzle at the CIA’s headquarter is made up of four segments, one of which remains unsolved. Picture: Getty Images media_cameraThe puzzle at the CIA’s headquarter is made up of four segments, one of which remains unsolved. Picture: Getty Images

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The final clue to a coded message unveiled 30 years ago has been revealed by the code’s creator.

Artist Jim Sanborn built the copper sculpture, known as Kryptos, in a courtyard at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, US, in 1990. The CIA is the US spy agency.

CIA headquarter langley US media_cameraThe coded sculpture has been outside the CIA Headquarters in the US since 1990. Picture: Rex features

The code is made up of four passages, three of which have been solved by code breakers.

The fourth and final passage has never been cracked.

Sanborn has already handed out two clues to help push puzzlers towards a solution.

He’s now released what he says is the third and final clue for the segment, reports the New York Times.

It is a word: “Northeast”.

CIA headquarter langley US media_cameraJim Sanborn has released what he says is the third and final clue for the segment.

Sanborn worked with retired CIA cryptographer* Edward Scheidt to create the puzzle.

Each passage of text follows a theme of concealment* and discovery, each more tricky to unravel than the last.

The first reads: “BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION.”

The last word, “illusion”, was misspelled on purpose to make the puzzle harder according to Sanborn.

The location of CIA headquarters by latitude* and longitude* is included in the second puzzle.

It asks: “DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS? THEY SHOULD: IT’S BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE. X WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION? ONLY WW.”

The “WW” is a reference to William Webster, who was CIA boss when the sculpture was put in place.

Sanborn handed him a key for deciphering* the messages.

The third solved clue paraphrases* British Egyptologist* Howard Carter’s account of opening King Tut’s tomb in 1925.

The text reads: “SLOWLY, DESPARATLY SLOWLY, THE REMAINS OF PASSAGE DEBRIS THAT ENCUMBERED THE LOWER PART OF THE DOORWAY WAS REMOVED. WITH TREMBLING HANDS I MADE A TINY BREACH IN THE UPPER LEFT-HAND CORNER. AND THEN, WIDENING THE HOLE A LITTLE, I INSERTED THE CANDLE AND PEERED IN. THE HOT AIR ESCAPING FROM THE CHAMBER CAUSED THE FLAME TO FLICKER, BUT PRESENTLY DETAILS OF THE ROOM WITHIN EMERGED FROM THE MIST. X CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING? Q”.

Again, spelling and punctuation errors were added in to make the puzzle harder.

CIA Langley HQ US Kryptos code media_cameraThe Kryptos and the key

UNSOLVED CODE
The final section remains unsolved, and is therefore a jumble of letters awaiting decryption*.

“OBKRUOXOGHULBSOLIFBBWFLRVNORTHEASTOTWTQSJQSSEKZZWATJKLUDIAWINFBBERLINCLOCKWGDKZXTJCDIGKUHUAUEKCAR”.

Until recently, Sanborn had provided two clues in the form of words that appear in the decrypted text.

In 2010, he revealed the word “BERLIN” appeared in the 64th through 69th positions in the final passage.

Four years later, he disclosed* that the word “CLOCK” made up the next five letters.

THE FINAL CLUE
Now, Sanborn has revealed the word “NORTHEAST” appears at positions 26 through 34.

He has set up an email system through which anyone can submit solutions – though it costs $US50 ($AUD74) a go.

The 74-year-old told The Times he wasn’t sure the puzzle would be solved before his death.

“For the past few years I have been trying to figure out how to have this ‘system’ survive my death,” he said.

“It has not been easy.”

This story was originally published in The Sun and was republished with permission.

the US CIA Langley Krytos code media_cameraJim Sanborn isn’t sure the code will be solved in his lifetime. Picture: Rex features

GLOSSARY

  • cryptographer: person who writes codes
  • concealment: the action of hiding something
  • latitude: the distance of a place north or south from the Earth’s equator
  • longitude: the distance of a place east or west from a line on Earth’s maps or globes called Greenwich meridian
  • deciphering: decoding
  • paraphrases: express in different words
  • Egyptologist: an expert in studying ancient Egypt
  • decryption: process of decoding, or converting a code back into its original meaning

EXTRA READING

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Invisible ink invention

Deadly curse fears as King Tut’s coffin is moved

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What does Mr Sanborn do? Who helped him create the code?
  2. What is Kryptos and where is it?
  3. Why is Egyptologist Howard Carter mentioned in this story?
  4. What word clue did Mr Sanborn reveal in 2014?
  5. What is the latest clue?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. What’s the point?
Why do you think Jim Sanborn decided to create this sculpture, with such a difficult coded message for the CIA? Write down as many reasons as you can think of.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Visual Arts

2. Extension
Create a special coded message or puzzle that could be placed in your school playground for other kids to try to solve. Make it as tricky as you can.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity.
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many pieces of punctuation as you can find in green. Discuss how these are being used, where and how often. What level of the punctuation pyramid is the journalist using in this article?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think anyone will ever crack the code? Do you have any idea of the answer?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in mathematics